Dr. Carlotta Berry – an engineering professor at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology – has written an op-ed in the New York Times about her experiences as a woman of color in a male-dominated field. Much of it should sound fairly familiar to philosophers:
Having worked with thousands of students, I know for a fact that for many — though by no means all, or even most — there is already a presumption that I, as a female and African-American, am less qualified than my white male colleagues, or at the very least that I was hired in order to meet a double minority quota. And I get it — anti-affirmative-action ideologues have managed to not only demolish the legitimacy of that policy, but tar the reputation of anyone who might have benefited from it (even if, like me, they did not).
How do I know? Sometimes it’s just a sense, a feeling I get from people’s tone of voice. But some students will automatically call me Ms., while naturally referring to my male counterparts as Doctor or Professor. I’m not alone: When I meet fellow female engineering professors at conferences, this sort of treatment is always a topic of conversation.
In class, I have my derivations questioned, lectures critiqued, grading regarded as too harsh or unfair and my expectations dismissed as too high or difficult. I once had a student who would review notes with me that he had taken on my lecture, then offer tips on how I could improve. It seems he thought he was doing me a favor, despite the fact that I had been teaching for six years by then. I doubt that this is an experience that many of my male colleagues have ever had to endure.